December 9, 2020 — The Senate on Wednesday voted 49-46, along party lines, to confirm the appointment of President Donald Trump’s nominee Nathan Simington to the Federal Communications Commission. Critics warn that Simington’s confirmation could stall the incoming Biden administration’s agenda, including the move to reinstate net neutrality rules.
Simington, who was previously a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, was picked to replace Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who is exiting the FCC when Congress adjourns at the end of 2020.
Trump declined to renominate O’Rielly for another term after the commissioner expressed doubt about the legality of the president’s executive order directing the FCC to explore how to interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to regulate social media companies.
Simington, whom critics point out has very little experience in the field of communications policy, was picked by Trump after Simington helped draft the White House’s executive order on Section 230 to bar social-media companies from “engage in censoring or any political conduct.”
The legality of such a maneuver is disputed, but it seems Trump’s actions are in hopes to gain regulatory power over Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies.
Simington’s appointment gives the FCC a 2-2 split between parties beginning January 20, 2021, given that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he will leave the commission on inauguration day.
If the Senate remains controlled by Republicans in the new year, pending the outcome of the races for Senate in Georgia, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could move to block a Biden appointee to the FCC, preventing Democrats from securing a majority, in order to stymie the incoming White House.
Countless stakeholders have spoken out to congratulate Simington on his confirmation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, and the Internet Innovation Alliance.
The FCC’s Pai congratulated Simington and noted that the new FCC commissioner hails from a rural community, “and his confirmation ensures that this important perspective will continue to be represented on the Commission for years to come as the FCC continues its work on bridging the digital divide.”
Other stakeholders have warned of the potential for deadlock, urging the potentially divided Commissioners to work together. The Consumer Technology Association wrote in a statement, “when Chairman Pai steps down in January, the FCC will be deadlocked. As such, we urge the commission to work together in a bipartisan way to achieve shared goals, focus on those issues that are core to the agency’s mission and remain consistent with our free-enterprise values as a nation.”
Of the concerned interest groups, Public Knowledge’s statement was the most critical. In a released statement, the interest group urged the next Congress to quickly confirm President-elect Biden’s nomination to fill the fifth commissioner’s seat and further claimed that a deadlocked FCC was the original intent of Senate leadership.
The statement argued Simington’s confirmation will likely prevent the agency from doing all it can to help Americans access the internet during the pandemic, saying the situation “could jeopardize every technology initiative from expanding affordable broadband access to reinstating net neutrality rules.”
A deadlocked FCC will be unable to ensure that rural Americans get broadband access, communications networks work during emergencies, and those who don’t live near a doctor can access telehealth. “Gaming the system only hurts” the country at a time when we all need our technology and internet access to work the most, reads the statement.
FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’
In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.
PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.
“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”
Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”
The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.
In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.
As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.
But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.
“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.
Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers
The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.
If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.
“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”
This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.
Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Calls for Environmental Sustainability at Summit
Environmental sustainability in telecom has been a key talking point for Starks.
June 27, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks raised on Monday the importance of sustainability in telecommunications as a speaker at the 2022 Broadband for All Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.
An important responsibility for agencies in the industry is building infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable, Starks said, suggesting four avenues to improve sustainability.
First, “we must continue to find ways to do more while using less, and that begins with the way we use spectrum,” he said. We need to “squeeze” the most out of the finite spectrum while simultaneously building networks that draw less power.
Second, “we need to realize our full potential to help other sectors consume less, too.”
We are entering an era where we can “collect, communicate, and analyze massive quantities of data to improve decision-making in real-time. Everything from traffic flow to energy transmission to orders of operation on the factory floor can benefit from data-driven efficiencies that were previously impossible,” he said.
Third, “industry-led initiatives must continue to play a significant role, from progressing towards reducing or eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their operations, to increasing renewable energy and minimizing electronic waste.”
Some manufacturers, according to Starks, have gone beyond carbon neutrality and are aiming for net-zero operations.
Fourth, “we must collectively do our part to mitigate climate change’s harmful effects at the network level”. With harsher weather patterns than previous generation, we should invest in networks that will keep communities connected during storms, floods, wildfires, and other disasters.
Starks, who has pitched environmental sustainability in telecommunications on a multiple occasions, advocated for players in the industry to be “as aggressive as possible with our climate commitments, and we should be as comprehensive as possible in our effort to comply with them.” This should include eliminating waste during the production phase, he said.
FCC to Gather Information on Offshore Spectrum, Accurate 911 Call Routing
The FCC is examining the need and use cases for allocating spectrum for offshore use.
WASHINGTON, June 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Wednesday to examine technology that can improve wireless 911 call routing, propose a fine for interrupting U.S. forest service radio communications, and to seek comment on offshore spectrum needs and uses.
The FCC voted to begin gathering information through public comment on the “possible current and future needs, uses, and impacts of offshore wireless spectrum use,” including for cruise ships, oceanography and wind turbine projects. Other options, like satellite-based systems, are available to provide service.
The construction and operation of windfarms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and communication services between at-sea vessels require offshore spectrum. The notice of inquiry asks what other cases exist that require offshore spectrum access that are not being provided for under existing models.
“We seek more broadly to understand the extent of the demand to use offshore spectrum and more generally where that demand is concentrated,” stated the inquiry.
“It is important that the FCC stay ahead of the curve in its consideration of upcoming commercial spectrum needs and this item does just that,” said commissioner Nathan Simington.
911 call routing
The FCC launched an examination into technology that could result in faster response times by more precisely routing wireless 911 calls to the correct call center.
Some wireless emergency calls are made near city or county borders where the closest call center is in the neighboring jurisdiction, resulting in lost time as calls are rerouted to the correct call center.
Since 2018, when the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on feasibility of routing 911 calls based on location of the caller versus location of the cellular tower, there have been many advancements in location-based routing technology. The FCC issued a Public Notice Wednesday seeking updated information on these technologies and the feasibility of adopting them into public use.
Last month, AT&T announced a new technology that would allow dispatchers to get a more accurate location of distressed calls by using the phone’s GPS.
Proposed fine for violating radio interference rules
The FCC also proposed a $34,000 fine Wednesday against Jason Frawley who, in 2021, allegedly interfered with radio communications that were guiding firefighting during the 1000-acre wildfire near Elk River, Idaho.
Frawley reportedly admitted to a Forest Service supervisor that he broadcasted on government frequencies in direct defiance to the Communications Act which prohibits any interference with authorized radio communications.
Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions are final FCC actions, said the press release.
- FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program
- FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’
- States Must Ease Zoning, Permit Regulations for Broadband Buildouts
- Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia
- Leo Matysine: The Impact of C-Band on Advancements in Mobile and Fixed Broadband
- Proposed Antitrust Legislation Not the Way to Regulate Big Tech, Panelists Say
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